The “Filth Elder” John Waters sits down with ListenSD to talk hexed junkies, inflatable Christmas decorations and why it’s always the parents’ fault ahead of his live stand up comedy special “John Waters Christmas” at the Observatory North Park, Saturday, December 7th.
ListenSD: What was Christmas like for you as a child? When did you find out Santa wasn’t real?
John Waters: Christmas confused me as a child. I knew that Santa was coming, but I thought he’d be arriving with Mary Magdalene, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. I thought they‘d caravan in some holy trinity, but that’s because I always got superheroes’ and spiritual characters’ stories all mixed up. I never knew of a single child who got stick and stones or coal, so I always kind of wanted to get them but never did. Every Christmas Eve, we’d gather in this little community where they had Christmas carols and Santa came; however, every year I could see that Santa was the man who lived up the street. I knew him, I recognized him, and I thought they were really dumb – they should have gotten a man from another town or neighborhood at least. It’s kind of the first parental lie you reveal, and that’s why later when they tell you not to use heroin you don’t believe them. It’s Santa’s fault.
LSD: It’s always the parents’ fault, isn’t it?
JW: It is indeed.
LSD: So how did this Christmas special come about? You’ve been doing it for over a decade. What keeps it interesting?
JW: It grew out of a chapter I wrote in Crack Pot, called “Why I Love Christmas”. It changes every year, and I’m currently in the middle of writing it. It forces me to think of Christmas all year long, taking notes and writing new Christmas jokes. This is the 12th year, so I really have to fetishize and milk it to come up with new jokes. But I don’t seem to have too much trouble doing it because you there’s so much to reference from the current events. I think this is going to be an especially tense Christmas in many homes because our politics are so divided. There’s going be fistfights around the Christmas tree or dinners in absolute silence.
LSD: I know you throw a Christmas party every year in Baltimore. As a host, are there any conversations that are off the table? Have you had fights or dinners in absolute silence?
JW: Well no, but you’re not allowed to take pictures and you can’t bring a date unless I know them. I hate plus ones. People have snooped around my house taking pictures and put them on Facebook, so I don’t allow cameras anymore. And if you RSVP and tell me you’re bringing a guest, you’re no longer invited.
LSD: Have you had problems with plus one guests outside of the photos?
JW: One year somebody stole a book and eight months later it showed up on my doorstep. It was a paperback book called I Am A Dope Addict.
LSD: Did they get hexed! Did they become a dope addict because they stole the book? I’m guessing they had to return it and kick cold turkey?
JW: (Cackling laughter) Maybe, I’m sure I could go through the guest list and tell you whom the dope addicts were. Don’t know if they got hexed. However, I don’t really have any severe dope addict friends anymore… maybe some ex-dope addicts.
LSD: Well ,they don’t make for good company, now do they?
JW: It’s pretty obvious when they’re nodding off and falling on Christmas decorations, and I don’t play that much jazz particularly for that reason. Don’t need those old junkies nodding off.
LSD: With regards to gift giving, I’ve read about your disgust of gift cards and am wondering if you have advice for the holiday shoppers out there?
JW: It’s never about the money. It’s actually offensive to spend too much money. It’s more about how special the gift is for them, or how much trouble you went through to find it. I think gift cards are repulsive and embarrassing; it’s laziness that doesn’t consider the person. In fact, it considers them dumb. I think you need to put some thought into it. For example, if I know someone’s really into American politics, I get them a book on Chicago gang fashions. Or, in Australia, I found a book called At The Garden, which had pictures of volatile burnings – which I thought was so rude, but I still bought several copies because I couldn’t believe it was a book. It was obviously done by a pyromaniac atheist, which is a small genre, but somebody will appreciate it.
LSD: Speaking of atheism, is there anything about the story of Jesus that you admire or can relate to?
JW: Well, he loved all men.
LSD: So you’re saying you love all men?
JW: (Laughter) No I don’t, but he was certainly a radical. I think he did believe he was the Son of God. He was just wrong. God knows it’s a good cult; it has lasted forever and ever and certainly is a good story. I don’t begrudge anybody for their religious beliefs. I believe in science, not religion. My only problem lies with religious people who don’t accept that others don’t believe what they believe.
LSD: In your most recent book Mr. Know It All, you talk about art as tool for activism, and I wonder if you could explain what the role of filth and bad taste serve our contemporary culture and society, especially during the holiday season?
JW: Trump has ruined the word “bad”. Bad taste can’t even be fun anymore. With commercialism on Christmas, sometimes going around and looking at the most pitiful Christmas decorations and taking photos of them is art… especially those horrible ones you inflate. I didn’t understand that people deflate them during the day to save on their electrical bill. I thought vandals had slashed the nativity scene. I thought they’d stabbed Santa. I always felt bad for the children that lived with families that over-decorated their houses to the point they’d have 500 cars outside to see 20 Santa’s on the roof. Kids can’t even sell drugs anymore – their teenage lives ruined by their stupid parents.
LSD: (Laughter) Always the parent’s fault… I’m definitely seeing a thread running through this interview. What do you think makes this stand-up act so much different than the other artistic mediums you’ve pursued?
JW: It’s something I have to constantly write; every year it’s completely new. I have to write a 70-minute monologue, which is basically a small book, and then memorize it. I also put things in that morning if something happens politically. I try to find out local stuff in each city to let people know I’ve taken this job seriously and am trying to understand their community. My audience is great, and I’m really good for the hairdressing business because they always get their roots done before coming to my show.
LSD: Mr. Know It All highlights your triumphs as Filth Elder in film, literature, photography, comedy, and summer camps. Are there any other artistic mediums you’d like to pursue?
JW: I talk about in the book how I’ve never recorded an album before, and that I can’t sing but I think I could become a lunatic rap star. I’m currently writing a novel, which I’ve never done… and someone once talked about making Pink Flamingos into opera, and I still think that would be good one.
LSD: Well I’d be really excited to hear any of those projects, and if you need a band to make beats for the rap record you got your man. Thank you for your time. Hopefully I get to meet you at the show, but if not enjoy your family and friends and have a merry little Christmas.
JW: You as well.